My old adversary started to run things again, so I told him to get along or get going and take care of himself.
He didn’t like being told to get, so he got mad and started to cursing and swearing again and then came that word ‘punk’ again. This time I didn’t bother asking any questions; I just put my arms back and put every ounce of [my] one hundred and sixty pounds backing it and let it go right smack in his mouth. Like all ‘bullies’, he howled like a pig on its way to be slaughtered.
‘What did you hit me for?! That wasn’t fair! Now look at me, that’s a hell of a way to treat a pal,’ said he, half-crying.
‘Pal?! Why, all you have done on this trip is to curse and swear and complain, and then you started that ‘punk’ talk again. Didn’t I warn you back in Philadelphia that I didn’t like you? While we are at it, if you care or think you ought to get a chance to crack me one in return right here is as good a place as I know of to try it.’ But apparently he [had] had enough, so he turned his back on us and went his way.
When I hit him, I thought my arm had cracked in half, so cold and stiff was every muscle and bone in my body from that night’s ride. My feet were practically numb, and every time I took a step it felt as though I was walking not on my feet but on stumps.From Chapter 6 of Waiting for the Train by John MacDonald. Edited by Warner House Press for grammar and clarity.
In this particular excerpt, from Chapter 6 of Waiting for the Train, John MacDonald faces not just the brutal cold, but also a rowdy fellow rider of the rails. As can be seen in the passage, this is not the first time the two have met, but it is the moment that their relationship escalated to brief violence.
What triggered John’s punch is that word, “punk”, which had a much more negative connotation in his time. The force of the word has lessened considerably this side of the punk rock movement of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the 1930’s, it was such a derogatory term that a man might be driven to anger or violence at its use. Remember that John had military training, and was a fit man, so that one strike is enough to send his “bully” scurrying away. This time.
The cold is a more insidious enemy, and he’ll have to deal with that in a different way, lest his feet truly become stumps. Read other interactions like this and find out how John manages to keep warm in Waiting for the Train, a Depression-Era Journal coming soon from Warner House Press.